For the residents of Allagash, it looked like something out of a television show.

Thirty game wardens, backed by state troopers, stormed into the tiny town on a February night, serving warrants and searching homes with the stated intention of breaking up a major poaching operation.

In the end they made only three arrests and got convictions on charges like tagging a deer with the wrong permit holder’s name, hunting while drinking and shooting a single grouse.

If the raid looked like a TV show, that might have been because it was. In addition to the law enforcement officials who charged into Allagash on Feb. 5, 2014, there were two crews from “North Woods Law,” a reality show on the Animal Planet network, which promises to bring viewers along as wardens do their jobs.

The Allagash raid raises questions about whether the camera crews are just observers of wardens doing their jobs or a powerful incentive for the law enforcement agents to make their work more entertaining.

More questions surround the two-year investigation that led to the Allagash raid. The intelligence was acquired by an undercover agent, who made repeated trips to Allagash posing as an out-of-state hunter. The subjects of his sting cried foul, saying the agent broke many of the laws he was supposed to enforce and aggressively tried to entice the targets to break the law.


The questions are mounting, but don’t look to the Maine Warden Service for the answers. During a six-month investigation for the Maine Sunday Telegram by Colin Woodard, the state agency dragged its feet on public records requests, demanded excessive payment in advance for copies of documents and failed to turn over requested email exchanges between the agency and the show’s producers. They even have refused to turn over an unredacted copy of their undercover operations policy manual.

The problems uncovered by Woodard’s reporting have gotten the attention of state Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, a co-chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Davis plans to have a meeting with Commissioner Chandler Woodcock to hear his side of the story. The lawmaker should not stop there, but continue with a legislative investigation where officials are compelled to testify.

Allowing real police work to be televised as entertainment is a risky proposition. The kinds of things that make for a better reality show are not necessarily what we want public servants to be doing in reality.

The department should let the public see all of its communications with the production company, and officials should explain why a few minor incidents in a small town warranted an investigation and raid of this size.

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